BOSTON — Bradley Beal stood at his locker near the middle of a noisy Washington locker room and expressed a thought that Wizards’ players haven’t felt for a few years.
“I was sitting here after the game and talking to Glen (Rice) saying, `It’s a great feeling knowing you’re going to keep playing,”‘ Beal said after scoring 27 points to help the Wizards grab the Eastern Conference’s No. 5 seed with a 118-102 win over Boston on Wednesday night.
“You don’t have to go home now and not know what you’re doing,” he said. “It’s a great thing for us to be in the situation we’re in. For me being my second year, a lot of guys haven’t been through it.”
The Wizards, who closed the regular season by winning seven of their last 10 games, will be facing Chicago in their first playoff appearance since 2008.
“I just thought the way we ended it, that’s what we talked about,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “We didn’t want to worry about who’s chasing who.”
The Wizards jumped over Brooklyn and into fifth place after the Nets lost in Cleveland.
Trevor Booker scored 20 points, Marcin Gortat had 15 with 10 rebounds, and John Wall 15 points for Washington, which finished the regular season 44-38. It’s the most wins for the franchise since 45 in 2004-05.
“I thought we had a pretty good season,” Washington forward Trevor Ariza said. “We had our ups and we had downs, but for the most part it’s definitely been a step in the right direction.”
Boston sat injured guards Rajon Rondo and Jerryd Bayless, and injured forwards Kris Humphries and Jared Sullinger, finishing with a 25-57 record. It was the club’s worst since going 24-58 in 2006-07, the year before acquiring Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and winning its 17th NBA title.
“I’m not concerned that we aren’t going to strive to get better,” Boston first-year coach Brad Stevens said. “I think we will work. I think their work ethics are good, and I think their coach-ability is pretty good.”
One player that may be wondering if he’ll be back is Rondo.
When asked if he wants to be with the club next season, he said: “Next question.”
The point guard will be in the final year of his contract.
Rookie Kelly Olynyk led Boston with 24 points and seven boards. Jeff Green scored 20 points and Avery Bradley 18.
The Celtics closed the season, filled with fans talking a lot of “tanking” and “pingpong balls,” by losing 11 of their last 13.
Stevens wants his players that return to come ready to fight for more playing time next season.
“So, there’s a couple of different ways to look at it: Are you going to get better in your role, or are you going to expand your role?” he said. “What I mean by that is: Are you going to get better at what you do well, or are you going to get better at some other things that make you, give you the chance instead of being the eighth guy to be the fifth? Or instead of being the fifth to be the third?”
Washington, which never trailed, led by 12 at halftime before the Celtics opened the third with a 14-6 run, closing it to 74-70 on Brandon Bass’ jumper from the left wing.
But – behind Gortat’s eight points – the Wizards answered by scoring 13 of the next 16 to move ahead 87-73.
Washington led by 16 entering the final quarter and coasted to the win.
Behind Wall scoring their initial six points, the Wizards had opened a double-digit lead (23-11) on Gortat’s jumper midway into the opening quarter. They shot 66.7 percent (18 of 27) and led 38-24 at the break.
Both teams had a hot shooting second quarter, with neither below 55 percent as the Wizards’ lead ranged between five and 15 points en route to a 68-56 halftime edge.